I rarely blog these days but the situation with brexit is so dire that I have been forced out of hibernation. Brexit is slipping away and Leave voters don’t seem to be noticing. If they don’t wake up right now then brexit will be lost within a matter of months as I shall now explain.
Theresa May’s recent Chequers Plan has scotched any idea that this government intends to deliver the brexit May outlined in her well-received Lancaster House Speech of January 2017. The Chequers Plan is indeed, in Boris’ words, a turd of a deal that no amount of polishing can improve. It is Brexit-in-Name-Only or BRINO and it represents a most despicable betrayal of May’s own promise made on the steps of Downing Street when she reaffirmed that ‘Brexit means Brexit.’ Never has a political statement been imbued with such dishonesty, and that it came from a British Prime Minister is an utter disgrace. Much has been written about the Chequers deal, and I urge leave voters to read about it carefully to fully understand the duplicity within it.
Outside of the BBC and the rest of the mainstream media, May’s betrayal seems to be quite well understood, but where does this leave brexit and where are we heading? To answer this, we need to examine the EU’s objectives, and in my view they have 2 alternative plans. It is debatable which is Plan A or Plan B but for brexiteers it doesn’t really matter. In the first plan, the EU intends to prevent the UK from leaving the EU. In the second, the UK leaves the EU but as a politically and economically-emasculated vassal: a taker of EU rules but without a voice.
The loss of the UK is a massive economic and political blow to Brussels, and so the prevention of brexit is not an unreasonable EU preference for me to propose. The EU could achieve it by drawing out negotiations to force a no-deal situation safe in the knowledge that there is absolutely no way that this current UK parliament would allow a no-deal brexit to occur. It is a Remain Parliament and if it was bolstered by Project Fear2, market destabilisation and the well-funded and organised Remain Campaign, MPs would vote against a no-deal brexit and instead send the Government back to Brussels for an extension to Article 50. This is the Remain Campaign’s strategy, and it is supported (openly in many cases) by the majority of MPs. However, in these circumstances, the EU would only grant an extension to talks on condition that the UK holds another Referendum or a General Election. EU officials have already said as much informally. A further referendum or General Election is the Remain Campaign’s main objective as it could easily result in a turnaround of UK policy as voters caved in to overwhelming pressure and general weariness.
In the EU’s second case, Brussels allows the UK to leave with a deal but one which is leaving in name only, that undercuts UK competitiveness and emasculates our trade policy. This is the deal that is currently on offer from Theresa May with her Chequers Plan. The result of all this is that the UK is hurtling to a situation where the only 2 choices to be offered to parliament in the autumn are No deal or BRINO. In either case, the EU wins and Brexiteers lose.
Some have suggested that there should be a Summer Tory leadership change, and that a third country, Canadian-style, free trade agreement would then be offered to the EU along with a pragmatic arrangement for the Irish border. I would support such an arrangement but there are 2 points. First, it is unlikely to be accepted by the EU because of the political and economic freedoms it would afford the UK as a competitor. In this instance they would be more likely to revert to their no-deal/Remain preference. Second, a Canadian-style deal with all the freedoms of brexit might also fail to pass muster in the UK Parliament. Remain MPs might well prefer instead to vote with the EU for the no-deal/A50 extension option. If you don’t believe me, consider the closeness of the recent parliamentary vote on the Withdrawal Bill amendments.
What all this means is that brexit is looking decidedly shaky. So what can be done? In my view, the only way that brexiteers can avoid May’s BRINO and at least get an acceptable deal on the negotiating table is through a leadership change. This will only occur if the Tories feel the electorate and membership is slipping away to UKIP (or a similar party) so brexiteers should do everything within their power to add to that sense of fear. But a change in leadership is insufficient because it doesn’t solve the parliamentary arithmetic. Parliament needs to be directly braced by leave voters otherwise MPs will engineer an undesirable outcome that results in Remain. I’m afraid that all this means peaceful but angry street protest is now the only option, not in small numbers but as a massive show of strength. It is only by seeing the strength of leave voters’ feelings that MPs will step back from reneging on the result of the referendum. Without a General Election, it is the only way of influencing MPs given the time remaining.
Street protest is not straightforward, however. It needs to be properly organised by a well-funded unified leave campaign, with broad appeal and headed by a big hitter. If a protest was not well-attended it would prove to be counter-productive and play into the hands of the Remain camp. The demise of VoteLeave was a disaster for brexiteers. It has left us with small groups, each with their own supporters but no unified message and no means of reaching the ordinary folk who voted to leave but generally take little interest in politics. We need Beryl from up the road to notice her vote is being ignored and to feel angry enough about it to jump on a train to London with her (metaphorical) pitchfork. That requires somebody with panache and powers of persuasion to reach out beyond the already-committed. There are not many leaders about who can do this and many readers will have their own preferences.
For those like me who are already concerned and want to do something now, I do believe we should lobby groups and individuals to form a central leave campaign. The big hitter can come later if necessary, but the unified campaign infrastructure must be put in place now and as an emergency measure as time is so short. So if you care, get writing to your local association, paper and MP. In particular, target groups like LeaveMeansLeave or, within parliament, groups like Mogg’s European Research Group. Ask them to form a properly funded unified campaign. Tell them to form a parliamentary caucus outside of existing party structures and party whipping. Ask them to look for the great leader, and most importantly, ask them to adopt a more active posture that enlists the help of leave voters. We need to get on a war footing before its too late and we need to inject some urgency into matters.
If we don’t do this, it could all be over by Christmas bar the shouting.